When thinking about the current superstars of each sport, names like LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Sidney Crosby always seem to come to mind. In a sport like baseball, attention-grabbing superstars are a bit more difficult to come by since the end of the Steroid Era.
Fortunately for the sport, and for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, center-fielder Andrew McCutchen is headed toward “universally-known athlete” status thanks to efforts both on and off the field.
After coming home with the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player award, McCutchen has become more and more visible; including doing commercials for MLB: The Show (whose cover featured his picture), T-Mobile and appearing on Ellen.
His play on the field is phenomenal, as further proven by his recent Silver Slugger award, but his personality and character off of it is what sets him apart from some of the other big-name players in baseball.
It’s been a long path for him to get where he is now, but a few key longstanding relationships have molded him into the person he is today. When he was twelve years old, McCutchen made a decision that would impact him for the rest of his life.
“The preacher asked if I wanted to be saved and I just said, ‘I want to be saved,’ so I got up on my own and I got up there. I wanted to have some type of relationship with God, and I was curious. My parents always taught me about God and Jesus, but they left it up to me to take the next step. So that was the first step in getting to know God; I had a lot to learn from there,” McCutchen says.
The next year, when he was in eighth grade, he was named to the high school’s varsity baseball team. He went on to have a huge career at Fort Meade High School in Florida; impressive enough that the Florida Gators offered him a scholarship.
Rather than attending Florida, however, he had a different plan in mind. The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him with the 11th overall selection in the 2005 MLB Draft. Right off the bat, it was clear that the Pirates had made the correct decision.
In his first year as a professional, McCutchen was named to the Class-A All-Star team in the league that he was playing in, which put him on the fast track to the major leagues. Going into the next season he had high hopes, especially considering that he was invited to Spring Training with the big-league club.
On the last day of Spring Training, he was called into the manager’s office.
“I’m thinking, ‘The big-league team, this is going to be awesome. I made the big-league team. Yes! This is going to be great!’” he says.
What he heard instead was unexpected.
“Jim Tracy says, ‘We don’t feel you’re ready yet. You’re not ready to be on the big-league team. You need some seasoning still.’ It felt like the world just fell right on top of me. It was a period of, one; being in disbelief and feeling like I wasn’t good enough and, two; taking that into the season and thinking, ‘I’m not good enough.’”
McCutchen continued turning heads in the minor leagues, but it didn’t seem to be getting him anywhere. He remained in the minor leagues through the 2007 and 2008 seasons, starting the 2009 season in the Minors before being called up.
Right away he proved that he was there to stay. In his rookie season at just 22 years old, McCutchen hit .286 and got on base over a third of the time. For his efforts he came in fourth place in the Rookie of the Year award voting.
Over the next three years, he asserted himself as one of the best players that baseball had to offer. He earned his first All-Star appearance in 2011, and the following year he came in third place in the MVP voting.
The 2013 season rolled around and although he was again succeeding on the field, something wasn’t right.
“I was going through some things and it got to a point where I got to my knees and told God, ‘I submit, I give it to You. I know baseball doesn’t rule me and I want You to know that if I didn’t have baseball, I know that I would still have You. I love this game that You gave me, but I know that as quickly as You gave it to me, You can take it away. But I know what You can’t take away, and that’s my love for You and Your love for me.’”
“I said that to God when I was at my lowest of lows and He opened my eyes to where I wasn’t going out there to just perform, I wasn’t going out there just to play and do well, I was going out there to play in His name, I was going out there to make a difference in His name.”
McCutchen proceeded to go on a tear for the rest of the season, which led to his winning the 2013 NL MVP.
“I got the MVP; He gave that to me for a reason. It wasn’t because, ‘Oh, you’re a really good player and you swing the bat well and you get RBI’s and everything,’ No, it’s not that, He did it for a reason: To use me for His glory.”
Were we in his place with the accolades he’s garnered, many of us would have let ourselves get caught up in the success. McCutchen, however, has kept on the path he set out on that day when he was twelve years old.
“He is everything that I could ever need, everything that I could ever want, and everything that I could ever desire. MVP or not, playoffs or not, I know what I stand for and I know what I believe in.” —Brian Rzeppa